iBeacon Alternative: Arduino Beacons and Evothings HTML Studio

Want to create your own beacon? Grab an Arduino and check out the Evothings road map to make it happen. The company demonstrates how to use their Evothings Studio to deliver interactions based on HTML and Javascript to to the end user, whether for iOS or Android.

Using a relaxation/exercise example, the company notes that by creating your own beacon from widely-available Arduino components, you can overcome limitations with the Apple iBeacon specification. They make a strong argument for the approach:

In this tutorial, we will create a mobile app for Android and iOS, that uses an Arduino compatible board with a BLE shield to create a beacon. This can be thought of as a Do-It-Yourself version of Apple’s iBeacon technology – which is proprietary and restricts the way you can scan for beacons.

The reason we are using the Arduino for the beacons is that it can be easily programmed and that it is a cool tinker-friendly piece of technology that you can evolve far beyond the limits of iBeacons. The foundation of the iBeacon technology is the use of a small BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) device that periodically advertises a UUID (Universally Unique Identifier) – however we will use the BLE name which is accessible across all mobile devices.

Apple has specific criteria for how it broadcasts a Bluetooth LE signal and locks down the ability of developers to, for example, change the advertising packets when using your iPad or iPhone as a beacon (as noted by David Young of Radius Networks in a discussion of AltBeacon).

Using Arduino also helps you bypass a challenge with Android devices. Most can’t broadcast as a beacon device although the capability will be unlocked with Android-L, the latest version of the operating system.

Here’s a video of the demo app and its interaction with an Arduino beacon:

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Thanks to Evothings for pinging us about the tutorial. And if you create your own Arduino beacons, let us know about it in the comments below!

Grow Beyond the Beacon: Shift Your Business to the Internet of Things | Guest Post

Bluetooth Low Energy came out of Nokia, an important innovator in mobile wireless technology. It was renamed from Wibree to Bluetooth 4.0 when it was handed over to the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) which allowed it to gain adoption quickly behind the Bluetooth brand

When Apple and others picked it up to make indoor localization consumer ready, they incubated a whole industry of beacon vendors and alternative approaches to BLE for indoor localization.

In concept, Apple’s idea is the simplest (and probably here to stay). But beyond beacons lies a whole area of untapped potential by leveraging the same technology in the current crop of beacons.

Discover the Power Inside Existing Beacons

Almost all the beacons on the market have a complete Bluetooth 4.0 stack waiting to be discovered by makers and product people.

Beacons work like lighthouses, broadcasting their position into the air, so navigators can use them as guides. These Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) devices could broadcast other information as well such as battery power or sensor data from the environment. Since BLE devices are usually extremly low power devices running on battery, they are small and independent enough that we can attach them to anything – from plants to fridges, cars, pillows, cats, …

That idea of super low power devices being various helpers in our everyday life isn’t new. It’s called the Internet of Things (IOT), which is the catchphrase for an industry that overlaps with beacons – in fact you could claim it’s the same thing.

Enabling IoT from where we are today with beacons is rewarding, business-wise, as it moves the product from being ‘another beacon thing’ to a specific consumer use case. At the same time, it’s not technically challenging, because beacons already use IoT technology at their heart.

Using IOT To Solve Problems

The key differentiator is on product design and solving a specific problem.

Let’s take plant watering, which is something that I regularly do wrong, so i’d really like something that shows me water levels on my phone.

Consumer adoption of digital moist meter solutions were always hindered by the fact that they are expensive, power hungry, big, and ugly. Here’s the secret sauce: any Beacon has gpios. If you stick two of them into soil, you have a moist meter.

It doesn’t stop with sensors. Actuators can be driven over BLE as well. Imagine something as simple as an automated hamster feeding machine controllable from your iPhones and Androids. How about a physical door opener or something that let’s me remote start those fricking Roombas from my couch (you know, the simple things that matter!)

In fact, my team built something that let’s you do that. It’s called the airfy Beacon.

As a consumer ready iBeacon compliant device, it lets you trigger lights using the iOS proximity APIs, but it’s also a hacker device, letting you, well.. stick a bunch of wires in soil and have the thing broadcast moist levels. Check it out on Kickstarter.

Bringing the Internet TO Things

A more elaborate aspect of the Internet of Things is literally bringing the Internet to things, we call it end to end IP. Connecting tiny and cheap (read: high margin) devices directly to the unrelenting creative power of the Internet is a makers dream.

Looking at the remarkable success of the Arduino, we can learn that enabling hackers is something that can be lucrative and personally rewarding, up to becoming a legendary product.

“End to End” is a long shot, with my team working together with scientists from the Berlin FU to get there. So focusing our resources and abilities on extending the beacon ecosystem into sensors and actuator networks over bluetooth is a nice short term sprint, available to anyone who already builds beacons.

In terms of technology, BLE has already existing tools available, such as GATT, to enable announcement and data exchange.

Think of it as a way to say “I’m sort of like a button, when the user presses me, I’ll send you a message”. It’s the same thing Bluetooth mice do.

Again, the best thing about all of this: you already built it. All you need to do to change markets, is to piggyback a new use case on top of your existing Beacons.

About the Author

Arvid E. Picciani (aep) is the CTO of airfy.com, an ex-Nokia engineer, IoT pioneer, and self-proclaimed embedded devices hacker. You can find more posts by Arvid on the airfy Blog.

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iBeacon in the Enterprise

iBeacon will play a role in the office of the future.

The role of mobile in the enterprise has undergone a sea change in the past year or two.

With companies increasingly abandoning hope that they can prevent the “bring your own device” (BYOD) tidal wave, employees are demanding consumer-level quality in enterprise app experiences. If they don’t get it, they’re hacking their own solutions, carrying their own companion phones where they do their ‘real’ work, and bypassing the approval procedures of the IT department.

But this week, we were reminded that the office of the future won’t just see employees choosing their own phones or laptops…we’ll see physical spaces powered by iBeacon and related technologies.

[Disclosure: we’re not strangers to this space and are partners in a platform that uses beacons and facial recognition to authenticate contractors on job sites and contractors and to manage volunteers at large events].

Robin Connects Spaces

We’re big fans of Robin. This week, they secured $1.4 in funding to continue work on enabling the smart office of the future. As TechCrunch reports:

Imagine walking into a room, having it recognize you, then customize itself to your particular preferences. That’s not the future – it’s happening now thanks to an up-and-coming startup called Robin which uses iBeacon and BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) devices to detect nearby people and things. Designed for use in the workplace, Robin can automate conference room bookings just by you walking into a room. And after you enter, it can also update the screens in the room and the nearby devices, to give you control.

The company is edging towards releasing an SDK for developers which uses RestfulAPI and web sockets to ‘control’ a room. While there’s no date on the release (they’ve been working on it for some time) the tool kit could become a major player in how you get connected devices in the enterprise to ‘talk’ to its users.

Kinvey Launches Authentication

While at first glance it might not seem like it’s connected to beacons, Kinvey has become the leader in providing back-end cloud services for mobile development in the enterprise.

This week, they launched Mobile Identity Connect, which lets enterprises connect their mobile apps to secure sign-in that integrates with identity management systems such as LDAP:

Kinvey’s Mobile Identity Connect is designed specifically with mobile in mind. It presents a client developer with a simple, consistent, OAuth2 authentication flow for all enterprise authentication use cases. Utilizing Kinvey’s AuthLink technology, Kinvey Mobile Connect proxies the authentication to the underlying identity system, and retrieves a token to access enterprise resources. This token is encrypted and temporarily stored in Mobile Identity Connect token store, and an OAuth2 token is generated and returned to the device. Subsequent requests for resources then use the authentication context to securely deliver data and services to mobile devices.

When combined with Kinvey’s support for beacons in the enterprise, the company is positioned to be the go-to resource for many developers.

Brivo Labs

A big player in enterprise and enterprise security, Brivo is also a contender for the connected space. Their developer APIs are robust, integrate beacons, and use ‘social sign-on’ for office environments, sports clubs and other venues.

This week, we were struck by their work with door locks – an unlikely win, perhaps, but if you’ve ever struggled to get into your own office after hours you’ll be able to relate!

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What does the office of the future look like? How will beacons play a role? Any projects or tools you think we should share?

iBeacon Update: Success Factors and Myths

Beacons will change the way our phones respond to proximity – a paradigm change from location-based interactions.

It will move us from coupons being delivered in a store aisle to an understanding that everything can be a beacon – from a moving car to another person, from the front door of a store to the band on stage at a festival.

Beacons aren’t about where we are, they’re about what we’re close to. And while the difference might seem subtle when you’re thinking about the “location” of the cookie aisle of a store, the concept of measuring proximity to something has deep implications for UX design and physical world experiences.

Internet of Things: Waterloo Edition

Those were a few of the messages in our talk this week at the first Internet of Things Meet-Up in Waterloo. (Check out some cool photos of the event).

The event gave us a chance to meet with some of the people working in one of the hottest start-up and technology hubs on the planet.

Waterloo is home to a Google campus that generates over $1B in value for the company and the city creates some of the best engineering talent on the planet at the same universities that gave us Blackberry and dozens of other once (and future) all stars.

The event was fantastic, sponsored by Terepac and organized by Ian Pilon. (You can also keep up with the community via Twitter).

We were honored to present at the conference and presented the above deck, which gave a top-level overview of beacons, a few success factors in their deployment, and a few myths.

Among the other thoughts we shared:

  • There’s significant concern about Bluetooth LE beacon security. These concerns, while disproportionate to the actual risk, will drive a new generation of hub/node deployments of beacons
  • Beacons don’t track people – but the difference doesn’t really matter. They’ll tend to highlight the fact that you’re being tracked already which will put pressure on retailers and developers to not, well, screw up on user privacy.
  • Android is lagging. Not just because Kit Kat adoption is slower than adoption of iOS7, but because their APIs, SDKs and developer tools are less robust than Apple. But don’t expect them to sit idle – we predicted that Android would start to see very different implementations of beacons and Bluetooth LE proximity profiles than the iBeacon specification.

The meeting generated some great discussion and lots of questions. The group will meet four times a year – and is frankly worth the trip, especially if you can also spare a day or two to meet some of the amazing talent working in the area.

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Checking out the slides we presented, are there any myths or insights you’d add? Top lessons for helping folks understand the importance of beacons?

Hacking iBeacon

The simplicity of iBeacon hides a deeper challenge: thinking about mobile application development in a way that relates a user experience to the physical world.

They’ve discovered, I’m sure, that the simplicity of Bluetooth LE hides confounding challenges, about which we’ve written previously. 

A beacon doesn’t seem to do much, after all, other than advertise a small packet of data which a phone or tablet listens for and receives. Once your phone knows that it’s in range of a beacon it can figure out how close it is and then act accordingly – pull a coupon for cookies from the ‘cloud’ say, if you’re close to the snack aisle; or giving more information about a painting if you’re in a gallery.

But where most mobile businesses or retailer apps have been focused on the idea that what you see on your phone is what you get, iBeacon and Bluetooth LE challenge us to think of the physical world as a key part of the user experience.

iBeacon Hackathon: San Francisco Edition

Tonight, I’ll be judging a Hackathon being held by the folks at BeMyApp. If you’d like to watch the 14 demos you can join me in Google Hangout as I judge from afar.

I’m really excited to see what the participants have come up with – and think the event is part of a larger tipping point that might start seeing less focus spent on hacking another chat app and more energy spent thinking about how physical spaces can be made more social, more tactile, and more engaging because of their merger with digital. (Check out the summary of day one).

According to the posted project summaries on Hacker League, some of the apps include a few that deal with real pain points. Among them:

  • Using iBeacon to make shopping at IKEA awesome (although I’d settle for tolerable)
  • BeaconCityTours promises a combination of guidance and serendipity next time you visit a city
  • And most important Beercon, which lets you buy beer for others!

Hacking Is For Everyone

While the teams finalize their pitches in San Francisco, it isn’t just weekend coders who are getting into the iBeacon act. Netflix has been experimenting too. During a hackathon amongst their engineers, they used iBeacon to allow you to instantly “beam” a video from one device to another:

Chris Miles, meanwhile, is hacking Bluetooth LE with an Arduino board and LED lights:

Join me tonight for the Hackathon judging or stay tuned for a follow-up post. And remember: Be The Beacon(TM).

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Estimote's Explosive Growth: 10,000 iBeacon Developers

30,000 Estimote Beacons Are In The Wild

Global Success Points to a Year of Bluetooth LE

Estimote has over 10,000 developers worldwide working with its Bluetooth LE-capable beacons. For a technology that’s barely a few months old, the number represents a stunning level of traction.

The news comes by way of Steve Cheney who recently joined Estimote as head of business operations in its newly opened New York office:

First We Play

10,000 developer kits might seem like a tiny sliver when compared, say,  to 10 million plus Facebook applications. But there are a few key things to remember:

  • These are developer kits. They’re not actually meant for deployment (although we know for a fact that they’re being deployed regardless!)
  • There’s no web or cloud-based service yet – a key factor when Estimote is ready to launch at massive scale
  • The beacons haven’t been certified yet, nor do they conform to Apple’s iBeacon specification (through no fault of their own – Apple hasn’t released its final spec yet).

By way of comparison, Twitter had 70,000 registered applications accessing its API by 2010, 3 years after its launch at SWSX. And with Twitter we’re talking about pure software – while in the world of beacons you need, well, a thing to develop with.

Imagine if you needed to have the Twitter API mailed to you and you’ll have some idea how amazing it is to have 1/7th the traction of Twitter in 1/7th the amount of time.

Will Estimote Be a Fully Open System? Or Are We Still Waiting for the Fees?

Twitter may, however, also hold the hint of concerns about Estimote. For those who remember the way that Twitter suddenly turned the taps off to developers using its API, there’s a suitable note of caution about Estimote.

Without a terms of service and without a detailed and published outline of its future pricing policies, developers might be having a lot of fun with their beacons but might not want to build a business around their ‘motes.

Estimote may decide when it launches its cloud control panel that it will be the only access point for developers to change the UUID of a device, set it to private/pairing mode, or otherwise update the firmware. Whether it provides this service for free or a fee hasn’t been stated yet.

Much like Qualcomm is distributing low-cost beacons but charging a healthy fee to manage them on the back end, Estimote might elect to take the same path.

As Steve Cheney of Estimote notes: they’re not a hardware company, they’re a software company. So if you’ve bought yourself some Estimote beacons it’s wise to keep an eye out for what you’ll pay for the software part of the equation.

2014: The Year of the Beacon

Regardless of what to expect next from Estimote, the interest in iBeacon technology points to an amazing year ahead. Right now, I still think it’s an underrated story in the media who have mostly focused on retail experiences like the roll-out in Apple stores or at Macy’s.

But this misses the larger story: that beacons can power everything from museum experiences to how we care for patients in hospitals; that they can be both things we stick to the wall and devices we wear on our wrists.

With 10,000 developers playing with Estimote alone (and countless thousands more using other brands of beacons or making their own), we’re at the very very beginning of a bigger story: one in which the physical world becomes the interface for our digital lives because with beacons our devices can finally see.

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iBeacon: My Love is Like Chocolate for the Internet of Things

Bluetooth LE is just the start of a new world in which our devices can finally “see”. While companies like Estimote are already hybrid devices – combining an accelerometer and temperature detector to enable some fascinating uses (your shop door opens and it triggers a welcome message on a device, say), a whole range of beacons that combine different technologies are on the way.

Now if Relayr gets its wish, you’ll be able to build your own devices from component pieces and it will feel a lot like…well, like chocolate.

The Wonderbar is a Modular IOT Device
The Wonderbar is a Modular IOT Device

The proposed kits will make it easy for anyone to assemble their own Internet of Things sensors – and will come with a back-end system to help you manage your yummy looking device.

The proposed design comes with six powerful sensors that can be snapped together:

  • Light / Color / Proximity
  • Gyroscope / Accelerometer
  • Thermometer / Humidity
  • Ground Moisture
  • Motion
  • “Public” sensor
Modular iBeacon
Modular iBeacon

The main circuit is supplemented with the snap-on modules, and the developers are looking for additional ideas to add to the chocolate pieces already planned. The main circuit is charged up with a Cortex M3, Bluetooth LE sensor and charger:

  • Processor: NXP LPC1837 Cortex M3
  • Clock Speed: 180MHz
  • Flash: 1024 kB
  • RAM: 136 kB
  • IO: 12 exposed GPIO pads, including 4 ADC, SPI, I2C and SDIO
  • WiFi: IEEE 802.11b/g/n, WPA/WPA2, full TCP/IP stack including TLS
  • Bluetooth LE
  • 3.3V regulator including Li-Ion/LiPo charger

Relayr will include a back-end system and the team is deeply committed to using as much of an open source architecture as possible. Headed for Kickstarter in time for the holidays, I actually think this kit would make a great gift for the geeks in your life – or maybe you can ask for one yourself!

Sponsor the project when it’s up on Kickstarter and grab some real chocolate while you wait for your IOT bar to reach you in 2014: the year that the Internet of Things doesn’t just get big, it gets really really tasty looking too.

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Inside Gimbal: Qualcomm Beacons Tackle Bluetooth LE Challenges

Qualcomm Beacon
Qualcomm Beacon

Qualcomm has done a lot right with its new Bluetooth LE beacons. Its devices are low-cost and it offers a full SDK for iOS proximity services, and geofencing support for Android devices.

Gimbal Pricing

Qualcomm is taking a low-cost strategy for the beacons themselves – pricing them as low as $5 for their Series 10 beacon.

It charges on a per user basis for its back-end cloud services with the first 10,000 users per month being supported free of charge and then 6 cents per user per month after that – with prices scaling down to 4 cents per user when you hit the million user mark:

0 – 9,999 Waived
10,000 – 124,999 $0.060 per Active User
125,000 – 999,999 $0.050 per Active User
1,000,000 and up $0.040 per Active User

In theory, because you can set your beacons to ‘public’ mode, you can then scan them to determine their UUID number. This means that you could use the beacons on their own without the Gimbal API or back-end systems and just run them as beacons. This puts them on par with Estimote which has a publicly accessible “out of the box” UUID allowing you to use and test the beacons without back-end services.

So: buy a few of their beacons and build your own back-end. Or use their back-end and you get the first 10,000 users for free.

Bluetooth “Stacks”

This build/buy decision is based on the simple fact that a beacon without a ‘system’ is just a radio transmitter with no listener.

In deploying beacons (in a store, say, or at home) you need some kind of physical device that acts as the ‘beacon’ – transmitting information through Bluetooth Low Energy radio signal that is then scanned by a phone or tablet.

Popular beacons include Estimote, GeLo, Kontakt and others. You can also build your own beacons. Coin, for example, offers an Arduino developer kit.

But putting a beacon on the wall is just half the battle. Because you’ll still need an app on the user’s phone, code inside the app to manage the way that the app detects beacons, and a system (however rough) to manage the beacons themselves.

A lot of developers will want full control of the ‘stack’. This means they want to buy ‘unlocked’ and open beacons, develop a cloud-based system for managing the beacons, and develop the app that goes on a user’s phone. Depending on the use case, this isn’t difficult to do – especially for fairly simple applications.

Using Apple APIs most of the software ‘hooks’ are already built into iOS devices and it’s simply a matter of connecting it all to some kind of content/management back-end system.

Gimbal goes beyond beacon s to include geofences and communication features
Gimbal goes beyond beacon s to include geofences and communication features

Gimbal SDK Features

There are some incredibly appealing reasons, however, to use the Gimbal ‘cloud’. They’ve managed to take a lot of the pain away in developing beacon-based solutions. In some instances, they offer solutions that we haven’t yet seen (but are definitely waiting for) in other beacon solutions:

Private/Public Mode: Gimbal offers an easy way to make beacons “private” locking access to them by unauthorized users. Most beacons are currently transmitting their data in public without a way to toggle into private mode (although the manufacturers promise that the feature is coming). Private mode anonymizes the beacon ID number and only allows its ‘true’ data to be read by authorized apps. Gimbal allows for this with a single click on their dashboard.

Smoothing Out Signal Strength: One of the frustrations in developing with beacons is the tendency of your app to ‘toggle’ between different beacons and proximity zones. This primarily happens because of radio interference in the environment, but can sometimes happen because of small glitches in the operating system on your phone. Gimbal allows you to set “windows” that smooth out fluctuations in signal strength and gives you better control of the user experience:

“This option allows for a window of historic signal strengths to be used for a given device to “smooth” them out to remove quick jumps in signal strength. The larger the window the less the signal strength will jump but the slower it will react to the signal strength changes.”

Finding and Exiting Regions: Like signal strength it can be frustrating to find that your app “finds or exits” a region when your user hasn’t even moved. Gimbal offers more granular control over what it calls “visits” and allows you to set a timer for arrivals. For example, their equivalent for ‘didExitRegion’ allows you to set a number of seconds before the app will confirm an exit.

Gimbal even provides a handy chart that summarizes what you should expect for response times when an app is in background mode. This has been a contentious topic and it’s useful to see them document their findings:

Beacon Transmit Rate Average Time to Arrival Standard Deviation
100 milliseconds 7 seconds 10 seconds
645 milliseconds 15 seconds 6 seconds

Gimbal Cloud Features

In addition to the library that they provide to help you develop your app, Gimbal provides a robust back-end to help you manage interactions with the app, the beacons, and analytics. Their system includes support for:

  • Geofencing
  • Communication to your user’s app (push messages)
  • Analytics which include length of visits
  • Full management of transmitters, hubs and receivers

These features go well beyond beacon management and offer an end-to-end solution that includes geofencing, push messaging, analytics and a robust hub/transmitter dashboard. Whether you use their beacons on their own or use the back-end system as well, Qualcomm has, if nothing else, raised the game for the ‘becosystem’.

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Qualcomm Gimbal: New Beacons Set the Bar for Bluetooth LE

The world of beacons just got a lot more interesting with the launch of Gimbal beacons by Qualcomm. Not only are the beacons cheap but they come with a robust back-end system, software developer kit, and all the weight of the Qualcomm brand.

While start-ups like Estimote have grabbed most of the headlines in the early days of beacons, they’ve yet to launch their full back-end systems.

Now along comes Qualcomm whose Gimbal beacons come in two sizes and at a nearly negligible price of $5 when ordered in bulk.

Two Beacon Types

The Series 10 beacon “has a small (28mmx40mmx5.6mm), lightweight, and sleek design with a loop on one side to allow installation flexibility.” It’s about the size of a dime and is recommended for short ‘alive times’:

“The battery life under typical conditions is about 3 months when transmitting at almost twice per second. This makes it suitable for applications looking to actively sight beacons while running in the foreground. Gimbal will send a notification when a battery is running low. In addition to its location features and long battery life, this small beacon also has a temperature sensing feature via a thermistor sensor.”

The Series 20 beacon, on the other hand, is the more robust of the two and comes in at the size of a playing card:

“The Series 20 beacon has a configurable omni-directional or directional antenna. It uses four standard AA alkaline batteries, all of which are replaceable while the unit remains mounted. The battery life is approximately 1 year, but this unit has the added benefit of transmitting at 10x per second which affords applications the ability to monitor for it while in the background while still providing a responsive customer experience.”

It’s What’s Behind the Beacon That Matters

But a beacon is just a transmitter without an app to receive the data, and an app is just an app without a back-end to manage it.

Qualcomm has jumped to the front of the line in providing a fully integrated beacon solution by launching a robust software development kit (including Android and iOS support), a back-end dashboard, and other developer tools.

Qualcomm Gimbal Beacons Come with Robust Dashboard
Qualcomm Gimbal Beacons Come with Robust Dashboard

While we haven’t tested the back-end system, its features are promising: full geofencing capabilities (not dissimilar I think to Radius Network’s Proximity Kit), analytics, communication tools and application management.

One of the appealing features of the Gimbal system is how it handles management of beacon events: by allowing developers to set up rules on their back-end system, you can set entry and exit rules for beacon proximity. They’ve also thought beyond beacons – and have built in the capacity to manage hubs, receivers and transmitters in the same dashboard.

The Game Has Been Elevated

With the Qualcomm launch there’s clearly a new game in town. While GigaOm seems to confuse iBeacon with beacons, it’s not Apple that should be afraid of Gimbal.

Instead, it’s the companies making beacons that will have to elevate their game – and fast. Estimote, in particular, will need to move past shipping beacons and start shipping the back-end management tools or it will find itself left behind in the fast-moving world of Bluetooth LE.

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Hybrid Bluetooth LE: The Next Generation of iBeacon Is Already Here

AirFy is More Than a Beacon
AirFy is More Than a Beacon

The next generation of Bluetooth LE devices will let you know when the front door is opened, whether your bacon is crisp enough for you, and let you tap into free WiFi to overcome limits to 3G/4G bandwidth in a store.

For all the talk about beacons, the true power of a connected world comes when we start combining the Bluetooth low-energy specification with other chips and processors.

The popular Estimote beacon already contains an accelerometer and temperature module, while Sonic Notify produces a beacon that bundles together Bluetooth LE with audio signals (to accommodate older phones, including many Android devices).

AirFy Takes the Bandwidth Pain Away
Beacons cause confusion. People often think that they’re like a little WiFi hub because they “transmit” data. But the truth is, your phone does all the work.

AirFy App Samples
AirFy App Samples

A Bluetooth LE beacon simply ‘advertises’ that it’s there. The data is a small packet, but it has enough information so that your phone can figure out where it is in, say, a store.

But then your phone does all the work – if you want to send a user a coupon, you need to deliver it through their normal phone connection (3G/4G etc). If you want to send them a video, you’d better hope that they can get a decent cell signal inside – a risky proposition if you live somewhere like New York City where wireless connections can be slow.

Along comes AirFy which is taking preorders and raising funds on Indiegogo.

This is one of those products that I predict will get made regardless of their crowdfunding success. Sometimes a fundraising effort is as good as a pitch to your local VC.

Airfy is a sexy looking series of devices – from a simple beacon to a “Hotspot AC” which boasts:

Indistiguishable on the outside from the HotSpot N, it boasts dual-band WiFi featuring 802.11N 3×3 and 802.11AC 3×3 with up to 1.3 GBit in your WiFi network. In addition, the airfy HotSpot AC comes with 5 Gigabit ports and a USB 3.0 interface. Naturally, it offers the full range of airfy functions: airfy free WiFi, VPN, HomeZone, LED and Mesh. You also have the option of setting each LED independently. Use this high performer with the fastest WiFi available and simply allow yourself to succumb to the spell of the LEDs.

But the thing I REALLY love about Airfy is the visual cues it gives through LED:

AirFy Hot Spots Glow!
AirFy Hot Spots Glow!

“Turn your HotSpot into a design object. Use the airfy LEDs to stay informed when something happens in your digital world. Set the LEDs to glow when you’ve been tagged on Facebook or choose from dozens of other fun options. Can be controlled via the app or the airfy website, and also features IFTTT support.”

Light Blue Cortado Wireless Arduino Kit
But these hybrid devices are just the beginning. Light Blue Cortado is a spiffy little kit that lets you code Arduino applications to cover everything from building an iPhone controlled Nerf gun turret to notifications and text messages if someone moves your bike.

They get super bonus points, however, for this photo, demonstrating how you can use the humidity detector to check out the crispness of bacon:

Cortados ship with Bluetooth LE profiles:

“We will ship the Cortados with a profile built especially for the common features of the Cortado. This will let you program it, read the accelerometer, set the RGB LED, and run your Arduino code like you’d expect on the Atmel chip. We will also release separate firmware images to load onto the module via our Apps that implement both iBeacons and Apple’s notification center service.”

One big benefits? No wires. And the first Arduino that can be seamlessly programmed from any device.

It’s a brave new world of beacons. And the next wave is already upon us: devices that combine Bluetooth LE with accelerometers, WiFi, and the power of bacon crispness detection all in the palm of your hand.

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